To learn that because of census tracts, election ballots must also be published in the Ute language understandably came as a surprise to county clerks in La Plata and Montezuma counties.
Neither Tiffany Parker in La Plata County, nor Kim Purcell in Montezuma County, had ever received a request from the Southern Ute or Ute Mountain Ute tribes for ballots to be written in their language.
Parker said that she had arranged for a translator to be available for the election, but it had not been requested.
We think that this is a case of a distant official announcing a mandate based on a map without knowing the existing conditions.
First, while there is an effort to maintain – and to strengthen – familiarity with the Ute language, with some elementary-level school instruction, especially in the tribe’s school in Ignacio and by elders who know the important link between language and culture, it is largely focused on speaking. There is an oral tradition with the tribes, as with other tribes, and the written language does not have the same emphasis.
Utes who can speak the language may not be able to read it as thoroughly.
More importantly, Colorado has become a leader in mail-in elections, with ballots distributed some three weeks before election day. Mail-in balloting has been overwhelmingly well received, as it provides plenty of time to review the candidates and questions and it eliminates any logistical challenges tied to having to visit a polling place on a single day.
During the three weeks, anyone who has questions about ballot issues can talk to friends or officials, do some reading, or refer to the Legislature-provided informational Blue Book. The three weeks ought to give non-English speakers adequate opportunity to search out helpful instruction from several sources. (Four Colorado counties have been required to print in Spanish as well as in English, Denver County and a few counties in the San Luis Valley.)
We believe very much in making it possible for everyone who meets the basic requirements of residency and age to vote, and we have no support for the kinds of politically driven requirements which discourage election participation. But to require ballots in La Plata and Montezuma counties to include the Ute language seems ineffective and unnecessary.
Both county clerks have indicated their willingness to meet with Ute leaders to discuss ballot language. Available interpreters, if needed, as in the past, could continue to be the best option. We look forward to hearing the results of those conversations.